There are always bands that seem to be destined to exist on the fringe of mainstream success and massive popularity. It may be awkward marketing, it may be luck, or it may be a lack of momentum and the band/artist was just ONE more really well-received release from being pushed over the edge. When a band such as dredg began their career with a borderline hardcore experimental sound in 1996, and have, over the past 15 years, toned the sound down to a hook-infested sensibility with catchy whimsical riffs and bombastic pop energy, it seems to be a cry for attention from the popular scope of music. And yet, dredg seem to lie under the radar despite their efforts. 2002 saw the release of “El Cielo,” an artsy escapade of sweeping rhythms and soaring vocals from frontman Gavin Hayes. And 2005 saw Catch Without Arms released, an obviously conscious effort to appease a wider crowd and dial their specific style to a more approachable wavelength. And of course, 2009 came dredg’s closest attempt at a streamlined sound, and warranted a relatively popular single for an indie band, and was largely concieved their worst album- for that specific reason.
The only reason I bring each of their previous albums up is because of the maturity but also deliberate efforts to move forward and make…well…catchier music. Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy is right in toe with the trends, an album that is harmless and likable as it is dulled to the senses in making an album deserving of radio play and widespread appeal.
To get this out of the way immediately, the album title is horrendously bad. Just an awful title that is so off-putting and frankly, embarrassing, I’m confused as to why it is titled so. Even a delving into the lyrics, albeit brief, fails to garner some sort of logic and reasoning to the title. That’s okay. This is about the music inside, not the presentation. Who judges a book by its cover nowadays anyways?
Well, frankly, everyone does. But if you can escape a pre-concieved notion of this being an album for 5 year olds at a puppet festival, it’s actually quite creepy. (And hence the album cover)
You really have to base the album solely on its instrumentation, which is interesting for dredg, who have always gave a purpose to their albums. But with that said, there are some well-implemented electronics scattered about. Somebody is Laughing is a relatively strong track, and Upon Returning has this fantastic little riff that drives the song through the catchiest chorus on the record.
Gavin Hayes vocals have always been a notable inclusion to the sound of the band, and shine throughout. Even weaker songs are slightly less so based solely on Hayes vocal output.
But for every spark of high quality, we have a piece of music that is concerning. it really makes me question what dredg were going for exactly. Down Without a Fight will catch any fan off guard, using an electronic almost danceable backbeat. But it’s so poorly done and jarring, I find it just a disaster and makes the entire song soulless. Another weak track is The Tent, with a chorus that drags and drags. The song is just so slow in a brooding heavy way it is actually quite exhausting to listen to.
The Thought of Losing You is just a sugary little song that goes right out the mind once it passes. and Kalathat is an acoustic ballad that lacks the charm and class of the best of its kind.
I adore the throwback to an older release of theirs, with The Ornament lifting a melody and lyrics straight from an older song. It may appear as lazy, but fans will appreciate the nod to one of their more well-received albums so many years ago. Ironically, its fusion with an older song, and the new elements, make it the most organic and beautiful song on the album.
This is dredg’s shortest album- by a lot. Considering that their shortest album previously was 50 minutes, it is worth noting. But my biggest issue is the lack of cohesiveness. Every other album by dredg, had a purpose. There was either a story to tell that was intriguing, or an overall idea and stylistic center that kept the different styles and sounds tied together towards one all-encompassing goal. Their 2002 album El Cielo did this with beauty, striving for Indian influences and metal influences, and yet keeping them gathered under an umbrella of a single concept- dreams. Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy is all over the place. it’s not positive and uplifting, but it’s not really brooding and sinister. The music has no tie to a big picture that is easy to realize.
dredg usually take quite a while to release an album. knowing there is only a two year gap between this album and their last is alarming. I love hearing more music from a great band, but at what cost? Will they release an album with no grounding, filled with inferior tracks and nurtured guitar licks? Dredg have shown a lot of quality in their past, but their strive for mainstream success and watered down sounds only leads to alienation and disappointment. The tracks are here. But where’s the soul?